In my past lives, I have been a member of the Knights Templar, a West Indies merchant living in the 1800s and part of a mysterious ancient sect called the Essenes. Or so I have been told by a psychic whose intuitive ability to tap into our so-called past lives sparked my fascination with the secret lives, and wounds, we each carry around.
While the psychic could give me no tangible proof of my earlier incarnations, hearing her speak of an 11th-century arrow wound to my left shoulder that “still gives you pain today” piqued my interest. My “problem shoulder”, as I call it, flares up when I’m anxious — something known only to me and my physiotherapist.
For some, their past lives are not merely recounted via a psychic, but known to them sort of instinctively. And for those keen to experience their past lives for themselves, past life regression offers a way to delve into these secret lives.
What is past life regression?
Unlike a past life reading, which is spoken to you, past life regression is a method of accessing your “memories” from past lives while in a relaxed state of hypnosis. The process is usually facilitated by a hypnosis practitioner who helps ease you into a trance-like state and guides you through the experience. They will ask you questions and encourage you to describe what’s happening to help paint a picture of the scene.
The idea is that your soul’s history can help you challenge your fears and phobias, explore unresolved emotions and better understand your relationships with people in your current life (because, hey, they might have shot you with an arrow in a past life and you’re still feeling salty about it).
For those who think exploring past lives is all a bit woo-woo, it’s worth noting that many practitioners and advocates of the process hold some pretty legitimate credentials. In fact, the practice gained popularity in the 1980s under the influence of psychiatrist Dr. Brian Weiss. After accidentally regressing one of his psychiatry patients to a past life from the year 1863 BC, the former sceptic went on to pursue further research and became one of the leading voices in the field.
Of course, past life regression isn’t evidence-based, so there’s no way to know if you really are delving into previous incarnations or simply taking a dreamy stroll through your imagination. But whether you’re a true believer or not, there’s certainly something fascinating in discovering where a session takes you.
What to expect
According to Karen Joy, a hypnosis practitioner and former psychologist who has facilitated over a thousand past life regressions, every experience is unique. “Some people get it vividly — I’ve noticed artists and creative people often get it very vividly,” says Karen. But it won’t always be so obvious, she explains, and you need to have an open mind to how the memories may reveal themselves: “It can come across as thoughts, ideas, images, feelings and impressions,” she says.
Karen begins her sessions with a chat about what issue or theme her clients want to dig through. Setting your intent for the process is important so your “higher self” or “guides” know which life to go back to. Once you’re in a relaxed state, Karen tells her clients to “go to the origin of the issue”, and the journey begins.
It’s best to go with your first impression and let the information flow through, Karen explains, even if it doesn’t make sense straight away; “It’s not a thinking process, but more about what comes to you first.” Karen describes it like a puzzle that comes together over the course of the session. “I never know where it’s going or what they’re going to get,” she says. “Then it comes together and starts making sense, and you can see how it has affected your current life, or how a certain attitude or traumatic experience has carried over.”
Unpacking past life trauma
Many people seek out past life regression because they suspect they’re carrying some kind of trauma from a previous life. This might present as a mysterious phobia, an unexplainable health problem or just a strange emotional reaction.
Karen remembers one of her clients, a young man, who had an inexplicable fear of falling. Over the course of his session, the root of the fear was identified as belonging to a past life. “It seems he had fallen from a plane in a war situation,” she says.
According to Karen, bringing the root of the problem from the subconscious to the conscious can help you to move on. “Once you bring it into the light, that’s when you can deal with it. When it’s buried, you’re just reacting to it and you don’t know why. So if you’re reacting very strongly to situations and you don’t know why, that could be a past life.”
Drawing on 20 years of experience as a psychologist, Karen thinks of past life trauma as a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “As a psychologist, I helped people with PTSD. To do this, I’d take them back through the experience very gently, to get the emotional release, which would come from seeing it from a new perspective.” She says the healing process for past life trauma is very similar: “Just like you do with PTSD, you revisit it, grieve it, work through the emotions and explore a new perspective.” The key is the “new perspective”, which allows sufferers to move forward in a healthy, positive way.
We are familiar with Hollywood’s representations of soul mates — star-crossed lovers bound by an age-old romance — but have you ever wondered if your past lives played out with the same people in your life now? Perhaps your boss was once a mean overlord or your current partner a forbidden lover.
Recounted stories of past lives suggest we regularly incarnate with the same people over and over again. These people might be your current-day family, friends or even an ex-lover. We fulfill different roles and play out different life lessons each time, sometimes repeating patterns over and over until we “get them”.
In her book Other Lives, Other Realms, Karen reflects on a client, Adrianne, who came to her hoping to understand the emotional love triangle she was caught in with her partner, Erin, and a colleague called Cassandra. Through regression, Adrianne discovered a previous life in the 1890s, in which Cassandra was her younger sister, but had died young and Adrianne had never recovered from the loss. This strong emotion had continued into her current life, causing turmoil in her present-day relationships. Understanding its origin helped Adrianne realise she truly loved Erin, and needed to release her feelings and connection to Cassandra.
Stories like Adrianne’s are a potent reminder of the power of our emotions, and their unwelcome ability to stick around if left unacknowledged. If not for the sake of your current state of mind, past life stories encourage us to resolve difficult feelings for the sake of our future incarnations. So you’d better work on forgiving that tricky friend or she might come back as an impossible colleague next time around.
Signs you might be carrying past life “baggage” fears or phobias with no obvious origin
- An intense, unexplainable reaction to a person, place or thing
- Feeling “stuck” in life, as if you can’t move forward
- Recurring dreams or nightmares
Lauren Furey is a freelance writer with a fascination for all things spiritual. She prefers chats about ghosts, dreams and the meaning of life over small talk any day.